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Senior captain Angelina Ramada turned in a .400 batting average and collected MVP honors for the North Branford softball team this spring. Despite having a younger roster than usual, the T-Birds still claimed the Shoreline Conference title for the fifth year in a row during the 2019 campaign. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Freshman Bella Hills was cool as ice on the mound down the stretch for the T-Birds this spring. Hills pitched North Branford to victory in all three of its games in the Shoreline Conference Tournament, including a 5-3 win against Valley Regional in the final. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Junior Kayla Despres batted .425 and solidified a spot on the All-Shoreline Conference First Team for North Branford this year. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
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The North Branford softball team traveled a different path to a familiar destination this spring. In past years, the Thunderbirds tore the through competition on their way to winning the Shoreline Conference Tournament. In 2019, North Branford fielded a younger club that needed to win three gut-wrenching games in the tournament in order to claim the Shoreline crown for the fifth-consecutive season. Head Coach Nick DeLizio’s club finished the campaign with an overall record of 15-9.
“This year was different. Going into the postseason, we ended on a 1-4 skid in our last two weeks. This season was like a roller coaster,” said DeLizio. “You want to be gaining momentum at the right time of the season, which is the playoffs. Perseverance is the word. The girls kicked it into high gear and ran with it.”
North Branford went on a magical run through the Shoreline Conference Tournament that saw the T-Birds post a 7-6 win over Haddam-Killingworth, a 4-3 victory against Coginchaug, and then a 5-3 victory versus Valley Regional in the championship game.
Freshman Bella Hills took the mound and earned the win for North Branford in all three of the team’s victories in the Shoreline tourney. Hills finished the year with a record of 7-3, a 3.68 ERA, and 42 strikeouts.
“To step into that role as a freshman and show success, battle, and show mental toughness, that’s huge for a freshman,” DeLizio said. “She grew so much with those playoff games. She thrived, the girls gave her tremendous defense, and we had timely hitting. It was the trifecta.”
North Branford’s wins over Coginchaug and Valley were especially significant, because the T-Birds had taken a pair of defeats to those teams during the regular season.
“Our motto was that, ‘It’s hard to beat a team three times in a season.’ We’re tournament tested, and our girls know what it takes to win,” Coach DeLizio said. “It’s awesome to see them hoist the trophy, especially because we weren’t the favorite going in. We showed that we’re North Branford, we play T-Bird softball, and we’re resilient. The seniors wanted it, and we saw the trickle-down effect all the way to the freshmen. We work hard to play in the postseason, and it showed.”
As a result, North Branford captured the Shoreline Conference championship for the fifth time in its five campaigns with DeLizio as head coach. It means a lot to DeLizio that this year’s group of seniors is graduating from the program having won the title in all four of their seasons with the team.
“I remember in the Shoreline Tournament five years ago, you had all the 8th-graders watching. You could just see the buy-in. They wanted to be a part of something special and continue this tradition. The 2015 team laid a foundation. The girls coming in as freshmen wanted to leave the program better than when they came in, and they continued to build on it every year,” DeLizio said. “We ended on a high note and brought home some hardware. A lot of people had us written off this year, but we put it together at the right time.”
Junior Katy Pedersen was as clutch as can be for North Branford, delivering game-winning hits against H-K and Valley in the Shoreline Conference Tournament. Pedersen, who earned All-Shoreline Conference Honorable Mention, finished the year with a .360 batting average with 27 hits, one home run, 22 runs scored, and 23 RBI.
Senior captain Angelina Ramada was named North Branford’s Most Valuable Player, earned All-Shoreline Conference Second Team honors, and was selected to play in the Connecticut High School Coaches Association (CHSCA) All-Star Game. Ramada batted .400 with 22 hits, 16 runs, and 11 RBI on the year.
Junior Kayla Despres made the All-Shoreline Conference First Team, the New Haven Register All-Area Team, and was a participant in the CHSCA Junior Select All-Star Game. Despres hit for a .425 clip with 34 hits, three homers, 25 runs, 26 RBI, and eight stolen bases. Sophomore Jada Miconi garnered All-Shoreline Conference Second Team accolades after hitting .347 with 26 hits, two home runs, and 27 RBI.
Senior captain Brianna Raccio was selected to play in the New Haven Umpire’s Scholar Athlete Classic Game. Fellow senior Ashley Anderson took home North Branford’s Desire and Dedication Award.
Hannah Senerchia had a huge debut campaign that saw the freshman notch a .424 batting average with 36 hits, 33 runs scored, 14 RBI, and nine stolen bases.
Coach DeLizio felt that the depth on North Branford’s roster played a major role in helping the T-Birds defend their Shoreline title this season.
“The goal every year is you want to put the best nine or 10 girls on the field. We had a lot of depth this season, so we played to certain matchups and had a lot of younger girls battling,” DeLizio said. “In the past, we haven’t had that much depth, but this year I felt pretty confident that if a girl needed to defensive replacement, we didn’t have to worry. That was big this year.”
North Branford is losing five sensational seniors to graduation from this year’s team. However, Coach DeLizio feels good about the fact that the T-Birds will be returning a good chunk of their roster when they go for their sixth-straight Shoreline Conference championship in 2020.
“Returning many of the starters that had that experience will help give us a leg up,” DeLizio said. “They’ll be bigger, faster, stronger, and know what it takes to win.”
From the Sidelines
The 2019 North Branford softball team’s roster consisted of senior captains Angelina Ramada, Amy Raucci, and Brianna Raccio; fellow seniors Ashley Anderson and Kaylee Velez; juniors Katy Pederson, Kayla Despres, Rachel Vitarisi, and Mairead Aiken; sophomores Jada Miconi, Sophia Ouellet, Erica Piercey, Sophia Anastasia, and Olivia Ferriera; and freshmen Hanna Senerchia, Gianna Depino, Bella Hills, Maissa Caso, Nichole Gomez, and Lauren Ackerman.
Head Coach Nick DeLizio was assisted by Neil Swanchak, Brandon Wynne, and Morgan Onofrio.
The Thunderbirds went 12-8 during the regular season, earning a pair of victories against Morgan (19-2 and 14-0) and Haddam-Killingworth (11-5 and 13-5), along with one win apiece versus East Haven (15-10), East Hampton (14-0), Portland (19-0), Westbrook (18-3), Old Saybrook (12-0), Hale-Ray (13-2), Cromwell (8-5), and Old Lyme (16-5).
North Branford’s regular-season losses came against Valley Regional (3-2 and 5-0) and Coginchaug (2-1 and 5-2), Cromwell (10-7), Griswold (11-1), Berlin (14-2), and East Haven (15-3).
The T-Birds were the No. 3 seed in the Shoreline Conference Tournament. They defeated No. 6 Haddam-Killingworth by a 7-6 score in the quarterfinals, followed that up with a 4-3 victory against No. 2 Coginchaug in the semifinals, and took the title by posting a 5-3 win over top-seeded Valley Regional in the championship game.
In the Class M State Tournament, No. 23 seed North Branford took an 8-0 loss to No. 10 Lauralton Hall in the first round.
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